When Faye Grearson was little, her family had a summertime neighbor who worked at General Electric. Which is how her mother, and then Faye, and then Faye's kids, came into possession of a paperbound cookbook for GE employees.
Or, really, their children. "It cracks me up!" says Faye. "It says things like, 'Girls cook... and boys can, too.'" It's filled with earnest instruction: "NEVER, NEVER cook vegetables without a cover." And tips: "SECRET: If your mother doesn't have a flat-bottomed saucepan with a good lid, why don't you save your pennies and buy her one for Christmas, or Mother's Day, or her birthday? She'd love it!"
This is one well-loved cookbook!
Faye, who grew up in Meriden, NH and now works at Twin Pines Housing Trust in White River Junction, learned to cook from it. So did her kids. Since the original got beaten down over the years, she had copies made. Which is what she hopes her grandkids will use someday.
So a while back, when Betty Pardoe, a Meriden fixture who worked with Faye's father, gave Faye a copy of A Variety of Village Victuals, the Meriden Congregational Church's 1980 bicentennial-celebration fundraiser, Faye was thrilled. "I loved it as soon as I got it," she says. She still uses it to cook from, especially when she's making whoopee pies.
Estelle Reisch's whoopee pies -- with Faye Grearson's notes from over the years.
But here's the funny thing--it's not just the recipes she dwells on. It's the people connected to them, too. "There’s a chili recipe, her husband was the math teacher, and that would be a math assignment -- taking a recipe for a crowd and scaling it down. Oh, and the butterscotch brownies, those are from Connie Faye. And the whoopee pies--always, for me, the whoopee pies--are from Estelle Reisch, her husband was a longtime teacher in Meriden. And my best friend, Kim Stockwell Adams, she's in here..."
So the other day, when she was making whoopee pies, on a whim Faye went on Facebook to acknowledge what the book has meant to her over the years. "Still my go-to for some favorite recipes and childhood memories," she wrote. "Thank you, Betty Pardoe for this gift many years ago!"
"The name, the lettering, all of it was so individual and unique," says Faye Grearson.
This is an age when you can find a recipe for pretty much anything online. In some ways, there's never been a better time to be a home cook. But what doesn't come along with those recipes is personal history -- a friend's hand-written card tucked into the binding, the fond memory of a schoolmate's mother's brownies, an entire village of the neighbors you grew up with passing along to one another what they loved cooking best.
A lot of us have a cookbook like this on our shelves--dog-eared, tattered, barely holding together... and priceless. It's filled with our notes, fires our memories, and tells us every time we use it the simplest of truths: that food is best when shared. If you've got one like that, tell us about it in the comments below. We'd love to hear about it.
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